The U.S. will leave the World Cup with its worst finish in a major international tournament, assured of finishing no better than seventh after falling to Serbia 94-89 in a consolation playoff game Thursday night.
The previous worst finish for a U.S. men’s team in 45 tournament appearances was sixth at the 2002 world championships. The Americans — the top-ranked team in the world — will be either seventh or eighth in China, depending on the outcome of their consolation finale Saturday.
Harrison Barnes scored 22 for the U.S., which got 18 from Kemba Walker and 16 from Khris Middleton.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 28 for Serbia, which ran out to a quick 25-point lead and handed the U.S. its second loss in two days. Vladimir Lucic scored 15 for Serbia, which will play for fifth place Saturday.
Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic called out the Americans in a television interview by saying “If we meet, may God help them.” But all that was on the line Thursday night was bragging rights and a few world ranking points.
Serbia led 44-40 at the half, a margin that may suggest the first 20 minutes were of the back-and-forth variety.
They were not. Instead, it was just two really big runs, one by each team.
Serbia won the first quarter 32-7. The U.S. won the second quarter 33-12. Serbia shot 64% in the first quarter and the U.S. shot 19%; in the second quarter, it was the Americans shooting 72%, Serbia 31%.
Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart were out with injuries, and neither is expected to play in the team’s finale Saturday. The last time the U.S. dropped consecutive games at the World Cup level was 2002 at the world championships in Indianapolis, losing to Argentina by seven and Yugoslavia by three. The only times the Americans lost three straight was at the 1970 world championships and at the 2005 FIBA Americas tournament.
All-NBA center Nikola Jokic was quiet offensively, scoring nine points on 3 for 4 shooting. He did make two free throws with 20.2 seconds left to put Serbia ahead by six.
The U.S. has been sending teams to major international competitions — the Olympics, the World Cup (formerly the world championship) and FIBA Americas — since 1936, a span of 45 tournaments in all. This is only the fifth time the Americans won’t medal; they were fifth at the 1970 world championship, fifth at the 1978 world championship, sixth at the 2002 world championship and fourth at the 2005 FIBA Americas. They’ve medaled in all 18 Olympic competitions, winning gold 15 times.
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